Graham Reid | | 10 min read
Charlie Watts once said of Keith Richards that he was someone music liked being around.
Records seem attracted me in much the same way because they just keep turning up.
Mostly it has been my fault, $20 could go a long way in the Real Groovy bargain bins just five years ago and so strange records would follow me home.
But then there are a swag of others which I have and cannot explain how they got there alongside other more worthy (or worthless) slices of black vinyl.
These records were just strangers who took up lodging and haven't ever gone away. Or been played much, if at all in some cases.
Like . . .
Eve Libertine and Penny Rimbaud; Acts of Love (1985)
On Crass records, this oddity came with an album-sized book of 50 of Penny Rimbaud's poems with collage illustrations by G (Gee Vaucher, Rimbaud's partner) . . . and the record and book were not to be sold separately says the fine print.
Which means that Rimbaud and singer Libertine (less a singer than an interpreter?) took this all rather seriously as an art project.
Rimbaud said these poems, written between '68 and '73, were “songs to my other self, a self that exists untouched and beyond the social conditioning that gave me a name”.
That name was actually Jeremy Ratter but he changed it/and into Penny Rimbaud in '77 around the same time he founded the anarcho-punk band Crass with Steve Ignorant (who plays on Acts of Love).
Rimbaud briefly studied philosophy in academia but very much developed his own set of beliefs through practical pacifism, anarchic principles, collective action and performance art. Indeed we could say his whole life – he is now 73 – has been one long and integrated performance.
The album is demanding – it opens with a screaming rant, some of the poems are rather thin, the arrangements surge from theatrical spoken word to faux-operatics and raw punk – and there are no discernible gaps between the tracks so if you want to hear poem #23 you have just drop the needle and hope.
I played it exactly twice and then again to write this. I'd be surprised if anyone other than his immediately family and friends would have played it much more.
Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to be on Spotify. (Ho ho ho)
Sigue Sigue Sputnik; Dress for Excess (1988)
They certainly lived up to the title of their second album because SSS were a sartorial blend of trash, flash, leather, post-punk bleached hair and glam. Imagine an early Roxy Music wound up into high camp.
They were also big on slogans: (“We invented the future”, “It's cool man, Genghis Khan rides a Harley!” and “The genius of Sigue Sigue Sputnik: 3 chords, $1m synthesisers, get on societies' nerves” are on this cover.
Speaking of which my copy – and no, I have no idea why I have this but it is in mint condition – comes in an Australasian cover which I think they used in Europe but not the UK where they came from. A mix of synth-rock'n'roll, glam rockabilly and dancefloor pop, it's kinda fun … and one track was produced by Stock Aiken Waterman, their single Success (which largely eluded them chartwise after their debut, for which Giorgio Moroder produced their single Love Missile F1-11).
You had to admire their demented drag act, socio-political wind-ups (“Fleece the World” was their slogan) and dystopian-future humour. And they pack a lot of musical information to 42 minutes.
I wish I had their debut album Flaunt It, but I have this.
No surprise, it's on Spotify.
The Flying Lizards; Fourth Wall (1981)
Everyone should have one Flying Lizards' album just to experience their reductive, experimental pop which used minimal instrumentation . . . but maybe not this one.
Again I have the second album by a band whose self-titled debut sprung the hits (their disinterested version of Money, and Summertime Blues). The project of avant-garde producer David Cunningham, the Lizards line-up included experimental musician, writer and academic David Toop, improv musician Steve Beresford, writer Vivien Goldman and laconic singer Deborah Evans-Strickland (among others).
This album is actually very good (it tanked chartwise) and has contributions from Robert Fripp, saxophonist Peter Gordon and classical composer /pianist Michael Nyman. It can't boast “a hit” like Money, but it does push to the margins with tapes, percussion and Patti Palladin's bored voice. Spotify it here.
Alien Sex Fiend: All Our Yesterdays (1988)
The specifics of how this took up residency in my house are foggy but I can guess why. At the Herald in the late Eighties I worked with a wonderful, funny sub-editor/writer Nigel Carter who wore Clark Kent-style glasses.
He was also an occasional DJ under the name Clark Bent (“mild-mannered reporter by day . . .”) although how much work he got and where was always a mystery. I recall his favourite bands were Gun Club and Alien Sex Fiend, and it would be a strange party, bar or nightclub that would want that stuff pounding out relentlessly.
But Nigel persuaded me of the joys of ASF, and so I bought – perhaps some later after Nigel had moved back to New Plymouth to sub and surf – this album which I don't think I ever got round to playing.
It's quite a thrilling ride (in a black'n'white punk collage art gatefold sleeve) and pulled together nine of their indie-chart “hits”, a number of them produced by Youth of Killing Joke.
A British gloom-goth dance outfit with a penchant for the macabre, ASF formed in '82 and are still going today. Tracks on this collection include Ignore the Machine, RIP, Dead and Buried, I'm Doing Time in a Maximum Security Twilight Home and I Walk the Line (“between good and evil”).
Glad I have this, glad I finally played it. A belated thanks, Nigel. That DJ name Clark Bent makes even better sense now. Hear it here.
Opposition; Promises (1984)
This came by chance. A guy I knew met a girl whose British-based dad had recently died and left her his exceptional collection of British post-punk albums and seriously good reggae albums and singles, some on white labels.
He was a man of impeccable left-field and political tastes, but she'd taken boxes of these to a certain secondhand record shop which offered an insulting low figure for them.
She turned up at my place, we unloaded the boxes from the boot of the car and I said I would value them for her. Which I did, and the figure was about 10 times higher than she'd been offered. But she wanted the money fast so, once we agreed that price was fair, I took them off her hands . . . and listened to all the reggae immediately.
I never got round to this third album by the three-piece agit-prop/industrial dance-rock post-punk outfit from London who experimented with fretless bass and synths on Promises. They were more musically ambitious than other post-punk bands at the time (they supported Thomas Dolby in the US at the time).
Interesting. Spotify has it.
Felt: The Splendour of Fear (1984)
Given the content, its British origins and the year, I suspect this arrived in the same box as Opposition. But Felt were always a more interesting proposition and singer/writer Lawrence Hayward (usually just known by his first name) went on to form Denim and Go Kart Mozart.
Felt had a big cult following in their decade-long career which spanned the Eighties.
This album however was an odd one. In a cover which replicates the poster for Warhol's film Chelsea Girls, it is mostly instrumental . . . and damn good. It has a light, expansively psychedelic quality, Maurice Deebank's guitar is central and winds its way through the lengthy pieces without losing focus or direction (the band took their name from a Television song so that's a clue). Although on the downbeat, eight minute-plus Stagnant Pool it is Lawrence who takes the lead.
This has been a real discovery among those album which surreptitiously infiltrated the collection. Not on Spotify.
John Trubee and the Ugly Janitors of America: Naked Teenage Girls In Outer Space (1985)
Sometimes you just buy a record because it's there, don't you? (You don't?)
I'd heard John Trubee on some spoken word double albums put together by LA journalist/writer Harvey Kubernik (how I got those from Harvey is another even more complex story) and had seen the enticing band name somewhere. So I guess that is why this came into my possession, but it has sat unplayed for about three decades.
Despite the band name, album title and dedication to the people of Afghanistan in “their struggle for survival against the demonic armed forces of the Soviet Union”, this isn't quite the furiously angry post-punk out of California I had imagined it to be (only the guitar pyrotechnics of John Henry approaches that, but its more musical than rage). Nor is it Zappa-influenced rock – despite titles which include Mental Illness Can Be Beautiful, Leper in the Shadows and Enchanted Dance of the Humourless Ill-Tempered Corporate Executives.
Trubee did phone prank calls (some are here and they are predictably adolescent) and much of the rest is Zappa-lite in that the big ensemble of Janitors play fairly mellow jazz-influenced grooves on the long instrumentals (sometimes closer to Steely Dan/beautiful music) and in places Trubee sings his socio-political lyrics over the top: Field of Corpses is rather lovely, like when Beefheart did MOR stuff, with a twist.
I get the impression they enjoyed themselves. Can't see it on Spotify, which might come as some relief.
The Tar Babies, Honey Bubble (1989)
These guys out of Madison, Wisconsin being on the SST label is the clue as to how this came my way. Some time in the mid Eighties I struck up a correspondence with Greg Ginn's SST label in California and started buying albums from them (using money order). Packages of records would arrive – early Husker Du, my favourites Meat Puppets and others – which I'd collect from a Post Office parcel centre at the foot of Anzac Ave in Auckland. Often you'd have to open the package in front of them to prove you weren't importing albums for re-sale.
By the time I started at the Herald in '87 and was writing about some of these artists (still obscure in New Zealand) they must have put me “on the reviewers list” because records would turn up at the office. I wrote about and/or reviewed the neo-boho folk-rock scene out of NYC they were recording (Kirk Kelly, Roger Manning), Meat Puppets, Bad Brains and others who were still little known at the time.
But the stuff kept coming and I couldn't keep up: fIREHOSE, Zoogz Rift, Alter Natives, solo albums by Brian Ritchie of Violent Femmes, avant-guitarists Henry Kaiser and Elliot Sharp, Mofungo (featuring Sharp), Trotsky Icepick, early Soundgarden . . .
Some of these I never got round to hearing, like Tar Babies' Honey Bubble.
It's a funk-rock affair from around the same time as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus with sax and trumpet, but very few distinctive songs. It's going back on the shelf alongside some of the white label SST compilations and test pressings they sent. Not on Spotify.
Hemlock; Give Kids Candy (1996)
Not to be confused with any other bands called Hemlock, this noisy grunge/power-rock trio were on the astonishingly prolific Goldenrod Records out of San Diego. Among the inserts with this – alongside a condom, photo of a guy being injected, small band decal and something like a business card – is a tightly printed double-sided A4 sheet of perhaps 100 singles, albums and CDs on Goldenrod. Other than Rocket from the Crypt and the ubiquitous “Various Artists” I can't say I recognised any names at all.
Needless to say I have no idea why I have this album.
Another one which followed me home because I made admiring noises about its cover based on a trashy paperback? Spotify? Don't make me laugh.
Various Artists: Ears to the Grindstone (1987)
And what better way to end this (possibly first) installment of odd unplayed albums than with something by the ever-popular Various Artists, these ones 10 American acts along the electro-industrial noise and broadly experimental axis, all recorded in the KO Studio in Massachusetts.
The opening track by Parade of Sinners is Cover Your Ears but it's disappointingly reserved.
As is just about everything.
Just in the interests of disclosure, the other acts are Gelatinous Citizen, Fact-22, Dominion, The Arms of Someone New, Ferd, Nomuzic, Mental Anguish, Dave Prescott and If Bwana.
So now you know.
And nope, I don't have a clue how or why or when I acquired this. But until I dropped the needle on it, it was in mint condition. (Is it on Spotify? Haaahaaaahaaaaa)
The question perhaps isn't, “Why do you have these albums?” but rather “Why do you keep them?”. That's easy . . .
Elsewhere has a number of columns along these lines, click the title for the following
Five Odd Albums No One Should Own (but I do)
and there is probably much more . . .